By Matiisetso Mosala  LESCIJ LESCIJ

A young girl, who became pregnant while still a minor, has been charged with getting an abortion, which is illegal in Lesotho. But, the family is questioning why the man who made her pregnant has not been charged as an accomplice to this crime and for having sex with a minor, which is also illegal.

*Mpho Sempe [pseudonym] of Ha-Ramonakalali in the Malingoaneng ward of Mokhotlong was charged with illegal termination of pregnancy after her father took her to the Tlokoeng Police Station in Mapholaneng to report that a contractor, Bahlakoana Kenela, had sexually offended her. Kenela was an employee of Rumdel AC Joint Venture, which includes South African firm Rumdel Construction and Lesotho-based A&C Holdings which is busy constructing a 32.86km road connecting the Semenanyane River to the Polihali Dam site.

Lesotho criminalises abortion under Section 45 of the Penal Code Act of 2012, which provides that “A person who does any act bringing about the premature termination of pregnancy in a female person to procure a miscarriage, commits the offence of abortion.”

It also criminalises sex with a minor. Penal Code of 2012 states that anyone under the age of 18 is regarded as a child and therefore unable to consent.

Mpho, who was 15 years old when she had the abortion, told MNN how she missed her period in August 2023. She informed Kenela, her married lover, who then gave her pills to abort the pregnancy because he did not “want the news to reach her family”. She says that she consented without realising that she was committing a crime. 

When Mpho’s family took her to the police station on August 22, 2023 to report the matter, her father, *Lehlohonolo Sempe [pseudonym] says the police took his daughter to the hospital, and he was told: “We will take it from here and see how we deal with it,”  a statement that should have set off alarm bells for the Sempe family considering they were not even given a case number.

When they left the police station, Mpho’s family say that they did not know that their daughter had been criminally charged. Police at the Tlokoeng police station, they argue, did not inform them that they charged Mpho with illegal abortion or give them a case number to confirm this. Sempe told MNN that no one told them that Mpho was charged. Station manager, Mphelehetse Khatleli swore on his officers’ competence, saying they must have informed the family.

Mpho’s family want to know why Kenela was not charged alongside their daughter for helping her with the abortion. Kenela told MNN that it was Mpho’s choice to terminate the pregnancy, he did not force her. 

He also does not deny having sex with Mpho but argues that he was unaware she was a minor.

Kenela also told MNN that he was called in for questioning by the police who casually asked him if he and Mpho were dating, and let him go upon his confirmation that they were.  While Mpho’s family is demanding answers as to why Kenela was not charged with having sex with a minor, police officers at Tlokoeng police station who refused to identify themselves because they didn’t have the authority to comment, admitted to MNN that Kenela should have been charged but could not explain why that had not happened eight months later.

But, station manager Khatleli’s response to this to MNN was different.  Khatleli said that police would not take any action until they received Mpho’s birth certificate proving her minor status. When MNN asked Khatleli why the police had not taken the initiative to gather this evidence since August 2023, he said it was because Mpho’s parents were not available when the officers went to her home.

The official police comment also stated to MNN that they had charged Mpho but not Kenela at the time because they were only made aware of Mpho’s case when she had already terminated her pregnancy.  They did not consider that she had an accomplice when charging the young woman.

Mpho’s family is surprised by the claim that police are waiting for Mpho’s documents proving her age. The family say that, they have been waiting for a police update but have not heard anything yet. Local residents in the area told MNN that they have not seen any law enforcement officers carrying out this investigation. MNN has uncovered another layer of mystery surrounding this case. The Tlokoeng police initially told MNN that there was no record of Mpho’s reported case, that it did not appear in the sexual offences and gender-based-violence cases between 2018 and 2023 statistics that MNN had requested. 

Did the police only choose to open an abortion case, and not a sexual offence case; hence, it was untraceable? Khatleli explains that sexual offence cases are sensitive by nature, and because people are always trying to make them disappear, dockets are locked away in a cabinet and the officer in charge was unavailable when compiling the data.

Sempe revealed that he was not surprised that the police claimed there was no trace of their case considering the treatment that they received when they went to report the case. He told MNN that when they arrived at the police station, an unidentified police officer remarked “we know that with such situations, we are expected to go and arrest someone” a statement that he says was a clear sign that no thorough investigations would be conducted. The station manager subtly brushed this off saying, “you know how people are”.

Sempe states: “We are told to report a crime to the police, but when we do, there is no use because nothing ever comes of it, no updates are made months later”.

Asked if he is aware he crossed legal boundaries and as a result, ought to face the might of the law, Kenela said “Yes, I do realise”. Nonetheless, while Mpho has a criminal case hanging over her head, Kenela is still a free man. While the police have not charged Kenela, they admit that considering Mpho’s age, they are convinced she was aided in terminating her pregnancy as “she could not have executed it on her own”.

Khatleli revealed that the abortion case has gone cold due to insufficient evidence, and “it is not easy to prosecute a minor, but we are still waiting on her family to provide us with documents proving she is underage so that we can investigate the matter and find those who were involved”.

Sempe says seeing his daughter’s perpetrator almost daily is hard and triggering for him because he was advised by the same police who are not investigating the case thoroughly not to have any interaction with him, as it was now in police custody.

Since August when he reported the matter to the police, Sempe told MNN that he has not followed up on the progress of the case because the reception at police stations is never welcoming.